Trinity Church, New Orleans

Trinity Church, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Trinity Church
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 March 2016, 10:30am

The building

A Gothic Revival church dating from 1853, designed and built by the 19th century architect George Purves, who also built several other New Orleans churches and public buildings. The tower was added in 1873. Renovations were done in 2004, including a new roof necessitated by Hurricane Katrina. A master plan is in place for future improvements.

The church

Trinity is the largest Episcopal church in the Diocese of Louisiana. Since its beginnings in 1847 it has survived relocations, yellow fever, the Civil War and hurricanes, and of course great social change. It has a celebrated music program (Trinity Artist Series and Jazz Vespers, to name only a few events) and many outreach ministries, e.g. Loaves and Fishes Mobile Food Truck, a youth center that can house visiting mission/service groups, etc. Morning prayer is said, and the eucharist celebrated, each Sunday, including an evening eucharist. Morning prayer and the eucharist are also held each weekday. The very well respected Trinity School conducts classes for preschool, lower school and middle school.

The neighborhood

Trinity is in the lovely Garden District of New Orleans, only two blocks off St Charles Street. Of the fourteen Episcopal churches in New Orleans, seven of them are in the Garden District and Uptown/Carrollton area near Tulane and Loyola. That seems like a lot of Episcopalians! Parking is at a premium in both the circular drive on church property and on surrounding residential streets.

The cast

The Revd Katherine Sharp McLean, associate rector, was the celebrant. The Revd Edgar G. Taylor, head of Trinity School, preached. The deacon was not identified.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist Rite II

How full was the building?

About three-quarters full. It was strangely empty until about three minutes before the service started, then folks streamed in.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A greeter at the top of two steep flights of stairs said "Good morning" and handed me a service bulletin.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a wooden pew, but not uncomfortable. The church's website says that pew rental was abolished after World War I, but wooden pew numbers still adorn the sides of pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was very quiet, but energetic conversations from the entry drifted in.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The order of service, readings, and responses were printed on a six page trifold bulletin; the Book of Common Prayer and 1982 Hymnal were used.

What musical instruments were played?

The 5000 pipe tracker organ, an opus of Redman Pipe Organs of Fort Worth, Texas, dating from 1990.

Did anything distract you?

As a visitor to New Orleans, I was intrigued by what seemed like a dress code for males. Boys and teens wore dress shirts: plaids, stripes, solids, tattersalls. Ninety-eight per cent of adult males wore sport coats, with half of them wearing ties. My companion and one other gentleman (a visitor?) were the only ones wearing short-sleeved island shirts. There was another gentleman who wore a polo shirt, but he didn't return after escorting the children to Sunday school.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

I like to call this style "comfortable with ritual." There was a long processional and recessional (crucifer, dozen-plus choir, acolytes, lay eucharistic ministers, deacon, preacher, celebrant), but both felt celebratory. Congregation and leaders knew what they were doing and why.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – The Revd Edgar G. Taylor got our attention right away, claiming that the parable of the prodigal son was his favorite since it "has it all: sin, love, forgiveness." He used repetition effectively, tying the gospel, the second lesson, and opening hymn ("Amazing Grace") together.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

God seeks a relationship with us, no matter how fallen, how distant we are. This is God's "scandalous grace," as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it. "Cheap" grace is available without any repentance necessary, but "costly" grace comes with a call to follow Jesus.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I wish the sermon had gone on longer. The Revd Taylor did an excellent job of describing how completely the younger son had cut himself off from family (lots of heads nodding in the congregation), how isolating behavior is another way of describing sin, and how completely God wants us to be reconciled with him. That was a lot to chew on.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Wondering if the boys and men wore long sleeves and jackets even in the steaming hot and humid summers of New Orleans.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I took my time leaving the pew, trying to make eye contact, but everyone cleared out pretty fast. None of the clergy shaking hands at the door asked if I was a visitor.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

We skipped out on it, since the Young Adults were offering a pancake brunch. The mimosas were tempting, but other parts of the Garden District beckoned.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – I was impressed by their music and social justice outreach programs detailed online, so it seems like there would be many ways to become involved.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The tantalizing idea of Jazz Vespers.

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